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Audeze LCD2 Planar Magnetic Headphones

96% Positive Reviews
Rated #5 in Over-Ear

Posted

Pros: Tonal balance, low level listening, resolution, low distortion, Bass, godlike midrange

Cons: Need to save up..or rob a bank

 

Caveat 

I am an unabashed fan of orthodynamic headphones. Have been a dedicated orthohead for over two years now. All thanks to dBel84 for introducing me to some home made SFI driver based headphones at a meet. The Orthodynamic thread soon became a sanctuary and the folks who take part in the thread very close friends. We are dedicated group who share a passion for planar driven headphones and in our ideal world planar headphones would take back their rightful place at the head of the pack in audiophile headphone listening.         

 

    I have heard the best that the dynamic and electrostat headphones have to offer in the form of the HD800, T1 (not enough listening time however), PS-1000, Koss ESP950, Stax O2, lambda, SR-404 and they have all fallen short of what orthos can do.

 

 

Equipment

 

Amplifiers :

EHHA-2 prototype

EHHA-1

Stacker 2

ALO Rx

 

Sources :

Sonic frontiers TransDAC heavily modded

Assemblage DAC 2.7 heavily modded

Ipod

 

Reference headphone - Smeggy built Fostex T50RP woodies aka "Thunderpants"

 

 

 

Music

With my review playlist at the ready I sat down to put the LCD-2 through its paces. I listen to every kind of music in nearly every type of digital format. My playlist reflected this. I wanted to see how the LCD-2 would perform in an everyday situation for me rather than just running through some reference discs. Genres from Indie rock to Southern rock, Country and folk to hardrock and metal, from jazz to pop, with western classical and Indian Classical rounding up the list. Their formats ranged from Mp3s, FLAC to XRCDs and DTS-HD Master Audio recordings were.

           

Initial Impressions

When Don informed me that he had the newest Audeze LCD-2 in his possession and invited me over to a listen, I jumped at the opportunity. Being a planar fan through and through I was excited to see what progress Audez'e had made over the promising LCD-1 that I had owned. With Portland's very own M Ward's - Post war at the ready I arrived at his place. As Don brought out the headphones, my jaw dropped at the gorgeous headphones he held in his hand. With the limited time at hand, after ogling at the LCD-2s build quality he set me down with his system with a cup of coffee in hand and left me to run it through its paces. I sat mesmerized for a full 40 minutes listening nearly to the entire album. When I was done all I could remark to Don was, "wow, that is something else". Yes I was a bit at a loss for words unlike today writing this review. I had one of the best vintage orthos tuned by dBel84 and a pair of the Fostex T50RP woody thunderpants. I ran a few tracks again going back and forth between the headphones and came away with the conclusion the LCD-2 was clearly the better headphone. All from within 40 mins of listening to it. I did find a few 'faults' at first with the LCD-2. I commented that I felt the bottom end was a bit flabby and that the high frequencies weren't hot enough to my tastes. But overall the headphones were the first ones that sounded ultra refined with oodles of detail and yet remained musical to me. I thanked Don for the opportunity and reluctantly left.

 

A couple of days later kwkarth agreed to come over to my place with his review pair of the LCD-2s so I could listen to them on my rig. We spent well over an hour running through some reference material. We also got around to trying the LCD-2 out of a portable amp with an Ipod as a source. The ALO Rx amplifier + Ipod combo did a commendable job here and confirmed to me that the LCD-2s could after all be driven comfortably with a portable amp such as the ALO Rx. This is good news to those who plan on using these headphones on the go as well. The audition was still too hurried to form any compelling impressions and I persuaded Audez'e to let me borrow the LCD-2 from dBel84s for a few days. Much to my delight they agreed.

 

Build Quality:

Soon as I got home, i gingerly brought out the headphones. Like a voluptuous woman pining for some love, the LCD-2 screamed at my hungry eyes for attention, to reach and caress her curves. I admit, I did. The headband foam was nice and soft, the pads were of high quality leather, they had worn in nicely since the first time I tried them on. The mini-XLR jacks is something that all would agree to being made standard on high end headphones. The cable was a far cry from the thick unwieldy one on the LCD-1 and neatly terminated into a Neutral jack. To top it all off, I was ecstatic to see 4 screws in the back which give immediate access to the rear of the driver, the area of most interest for us orthoheads who like to tune and configure orthos to our tastes. The guys at Audez'e had clearly been paying attention to our wish list.

Holding the LCD-2s in your hand, you know its a high end product, the result of quality workmanship and sound engineering.

 

 

Does it have 'sachu' bass?

I am notorious to be very picky with the low frequency response on any system I listen to. I personally feel most people are only exposed to a flat monotonic bass note on headphones. Orthos opened my eyes and gave me hope that they can reproduce speaker like texturing in low frequency notes. This drew me back into the headphone scene. Whenever i try a new headphone I am instantly focused on the low frequency reproduction capability.

 

I like the low frequencies to be extended, tight, accurate in tonal reproduction and most importantly textured. Largely, orthos do a fairly decent job in this area albeit after a fair amount of tuning, but still end up compromising on one of the other areas. Having owned and heard the LCD-1 and sold primarily for its lackluster performance when it came to low frequency response I wasn't prepared to accept the fact that the LCD-2s could come anywhere close to the prowess of my reference TPs.

           

     First thing I tried was an Indian Classical piece From the album, The Valley Recalls - 2. The impact of the Ghatam was everything that I expected it to be. The tablas and Mrudangam were sounding surreal, quick with just the right impact. Some orthos veil the notes from how a Tabla or Mrudangam sound but the LCD-2 was a revelation here. I had to convince myself what I was hearing was right. I quickly switched back to my reference headphones and could make out that the "tok" sound on a tabla was sounding off, more like a "tick" on the Fostex thnderpants. back on the LCD-2 I just closed my eyes and enjoyed the amalgamation of 3 ancient Indian percussion instruments fire away in harmony. As the track reached its crescendo, the tabla master Zhakir Hussain furiously thumping way on the tablas while the mrudangam was trying to keep up the tempo, each and every note blended blissfully. I felt I was back in the First Unitarian Church in downtown Portland where they once performed a year or two ago.

          

        Next I tried some Electronica,Pop the Cherry and Currywurst by Aerodromme. Breakbeat drum and bass and electronica usually don't have ultra low frequency material. What i look for here is impact. On the EHHA, the LCD-2s were head pounding but lacking some definition. Switching to the Stacker 2, the definition got back, more tighter bass but the impact was not as great. I stuck with the Stacker 2 amplifier as for the first time, I was able to rock hard to Electronica and DnB and actually appreciate the details in the recordings which i once thought to be non-existent. One only expects the 4 by 4 beat in a DnB track to stand out , but with the LCD-2 it transforms the experience and gets a rave going in your head.

         

   On M Ward's "Poison Cup" and Patricia Barber's Companion album, I could actually feel the pads vibrating on the ultra low bass notes. The double bass was as real and as tactile as it can get. It was like an onion. You can keep peeling away layer after layer of bass. They one upped my much vaunted thunderpants in the low frequency reproduction in everything except the impact levels. The LCD-2 were just as effortless as the thunderpants throughout. Fabulous!

           

       One further thing that I noticed was that some notes sounded stunning different on the two headphones. I don't quite know how to explain this but the notes just sounded real on the LCD-2. I was stunned and disappointed at the same time. As much as I hate to admit it I felt let down by my reference headphones. I again attribute the LCD-2s prowess in recreating tonally accurate notes to its open design, not to mention what appears to meticulously tweaked driver to extract every little bit of ortho goodness available. For a closed headphone my reference headphones are still the best I've heard. But overall, the LCD-2 frankly walked away with the prize. My reference headphones were no competition to be fully upfront.

           

           

The all important midrange.

Midrange is the stronghold of nearly all orthos. No, your dynamic headphone or stat headphone just don't do it like an ortho and that's a fact. The dynamics lack the emotion while stats sound thin to these ears. Perhaps the only stat to come close to otho like sound in the midrange is the Stax O2 MK1. To date the best midrange I have heard on any headphone has been the ultra rare and venerable Yamaha Yh-1000. It gave me the first eargasm ever listening to Margo sing Sweet Jane. It is very hard to describe the emotional involvement that one goes through when one listens to something so superlative, one that hasn't been experienced before and try to put words to describe the feeling. Its just something you have to hear for yourself. But then the YH1K is so rare a headphone that only a handful have had the privilege. I like my vocals just a bit upfront so I raised my eyebrow when i saw the freq curve on the LCD-2 prior to listening to it thinking, hmm that doesn't look good for the midrange. That 6-10dB drop from 1kHz onwards is significant i felt.

 

Those first 40 mins laid any apprehensions I had to rest. Now M Ward is a handsome albeit short man with a voice that makes girls swoon. Listening to him sing "Rollercoaster" left me swaying too and thinking I could kiss the man, he is after all singing right in front of me. It felt so real, you could hear each and every breath he took between verses, the backup vocals were something I had never heard on my reference headphones in the "Eyes on the Prize" track, at least not as clearly. I could pick out 3 distinct voices in the background. I was dumbstruck. I knew then, this was it. We finally had a pair of headphones that could go toe to toe with the Yh-1000 and then some. The difference between the two is the ultra low distortion levels. Both have the same emotion and awestruck feeling that they leave in their wake. But, the LCD-2 goes one step further giving you the blackest of black backgrounds.

 

The track 'Good Ole Boys like me' By Don Williams brought me to tears. His silky smooth yet rough in a complex way reminded me why he was my favorite Country artist. To round up the male vocals test, i played Iron Maiden - Run to the Hills and Pantera's Cowboys from hell. Till date I never knew one could actually discern details in genres such as metal, that one could connect with the normally screeching vocals on an emotional level. With the LCD-2 it wasn't just mindless headbanging, but it was headbanging with emotion.

 

For female vocals i rifled through Loreena Mckennit - A Phrygian Moon and Mummer's dance first. The lovely Canadian's voice sailed through the blob sitting between my ears. The tonal accuracy is nothing like I have heard. I rang up Rachel Yamagata's "I'll find a way" to hear her Sweet nasal voice sending shivers down my spine just as it did once in a demo room at RMAF. I felt I was back at the Crystal Ballroom a year ago when I saw her perform live (even with a slight case of the flu, the poor dear). The LCD-2 was resolving enough to show some distortion in the music however which I was surprised by. As I had listened to this track so many times in so many high end systems that while it was barely noticeable on them, it immodestly stood out on the LCD-2. Margo is a favorite of mine and naturally any female vocals test I do involves Sweet Jane and Blue Moon Revisited. I felt like I could just die and go to heaven listening to her on the LCD-2. I was on such a high listening to the LCD-2 that i played Lisa Gerrad's 'Elysium' track on the Gladiator OST. One of the most moving pieces of cinema scores ever created and the LCD-2 didn't disappoint as it moved me to my core. To round up the female Vocals test the Companion album by Patricia Barber (XRCD) was played a full 4 times from end to end. Every time revealing more and more details in the midrange. Putting it simply, the midrange on the LCD-2 is godlike.

           

           

Man it feels good to get high..

As noted in the initial impressions, i felt the energy in the highs were a tad lacking. However, as I got to spend more and more time with the LCD-2, it was apparent that they in fact extended just as well as the best headphones without adding coloration, being absolutely neutral in reproducing source material as it should be. I did miss the leading edge on tracks like the 'Librarian' or on any of the metal tracks. The strength however lies in the LCD-2s resolving power. I thought my reference headphones were the best resolving orthodynamic headphones I had heard. Boy was I wrong. The LCD-2 made mince meat of them in this regard. For instance, you could hear every creak in "I'll find a way", the cymbals were lifelike. On M ward's 'Chinese translation', his power with an acoustic guitar was there in its fully glory, each string being plucked, his fingers sliding up and down the strings, On Don Williams track too, one could hear the guitar plucks being as close to lifelike as it can get. On My Morning Jacket's " Touch me I am going to scream. Part2" there are at various points where the keyboards come in and while the Fostex thunderpants clouded the consecutive notes, the LCD-2 picked them apart beautifully. 

 

Special mention for the Indian classical track. Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia on the bamboo flute and Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma on the ancient instrument the Santoor (hammered Dulcimer), two living legends coming together to create some of the best pieces of music ever played. Each strike on the santoor and its harmonics were reproduced seamlessly. There is this section of the track where Shiv kumar sharma ramps up the tempo on the Santoor (each strike being as precise and fast as a pinprick) and so does Hariprasad Chaurasia on the flute (increasing the pitch as well) blending the two instruments into something only the Gods could have scripted. The urgency in the tempo one feels yet calmness reverberated by the tonal qualities of the instruments strike a balance that i had never experienced before listening to this track.

 

 

Soundstaging

This is an area that most vintage orthos are severely handicapped at. I personally am not a soundstage freak. I don't want an area spanning a football field between my ears but enough to give breathing space for all the elements in an orchestra to come through without glazing over is fine. Even this modest task is mucked up by most vintage orthos. The other thing that most headphones and not just orthos suffer from is a fractured soundstaging, its not a seamless transition from left to middle to right.

 

 The only headphone I have heard do this superlatively has been the HD800 and it maintains this advantage over the LCD-2. However the upside on the LCD-2 is that there is actually enough of a soundstage. For example listening to The Battle - Gladiator OST you feel like you are actually there, the opening scene flashes before your eyes, you are there on the battle field, charging at them barbarians yelling "Roma Victor!". Listening to Rachael Yamagata singing "I'll find a way" I was transported back in time just as mesmerized to the Reimyo room at RMAF with the lights dimmed down. That feeling of immersion in the music was something I had never experienced with an orthodynamic headphone before. The open nature coupled with the transducer design is to be credited for this.

 

Imaging

Imaging to me is more important than soundstage. My reference headphones have a problem with imaging well cause of their closed nature. It falls short with complex music where instruments lose their focus and get mixed up. The one headphone that did this better than anything else was the Stax Omega 2 or O2 MK1. The O2 is superlative in this field. I was overjoyed when I could pick out each and every instrument in the Listen Up! DTS master audio recording. This is one of the hallmarks of these headphones and so easily noticeable that I made a comment to the effect to Don about it when I heard it the first time. When Omar Hakim(on drums) goes off on a solo in the dts recording I was spellbound listening to each instrument, the hi-hat, the cymbals, snare, tom toms and the kick drum all in their rightful spaces with room to breathe.

Switching to Loreena Mckennit's "Highway man", the complex jamboree of instruments in the mix filter through the music that made me aware of what instrument was playing where in the scene and importantly how it sounded. My reference headphones just utterly made a hash of it here.  I was hearing details in the background that I had never heard before, such as the backup vocals on M ward's "Post war" track.

Conclusion:  The LCD-2 was right up there alongside the O2 in imaging.

 

Hallmarks

Low level listening.

The LCD-2 is probably the best headphone I have had the pleasure of using for low level listening. Just for this reason alone I want to buy these headphones. Most headphones if not all that I have heard need to me to up the volume control knob to get full dynamic range reproduction. Not the case with the LCD-2 which translates to safer listening.

The LCD-2s retrieval ability at low listening levels is by far the greatest thing for me. How many times have you had to turn the volume down so your wife or gf wouldn't beat you in the head with your headphones cause you were disturbing her? For me its come close to being atleast once. It is frustrating listening to music at low levels simply because all, yes all headphones that I have listened to simply cannot sustain a full dynamic range at low levels. Some need to be turned up to hear and low frequencies notes at all, others make Margo of Cowboy Junkies sound like those American Idol wannabes.

But in comes the LCD-2, it makes it all seem so effortless at low volumes. There is all the low frequency extension, the shimmer in the highs and maintains that seductive midrange. I was sold on them after they kept me awake till 5 in the morning for two nights in a row of low level listening. This means my ears get to enjoy music without damaging for a very long time..maybe even till I am 40-50 years old. ;)

Nothing even comes close to it in this department.

 

What does this all mean to you and to me?

Staying true to the one and only rule of the audiophile world I will say trust your own ears. But if you don't know what you are hearing, then yeah just take my word for it. :)

 

The boys at Audez'e have come a long way since the LCD-1 that they released at last year's Canjam. To think a company's first real headphone product can sound as good as it does, look and feel good as good as it does just blows me away. These guys have undoubtedly put a lot of pain and effort, while all the time listening to the community for feedback and suggestions in bringing out the best they could offer. In my eyes and to these ears, they have surpassed every expectation by light years.

 

To me, the LCD-2 is the culmination of the end of a 3 decade drought for a true high end planar headphone that is well designed, well thought out, that can hang with the big guns of the stat world and then some. But, most importantly, it is one that has been tuned to perfection just like the only other ortho in my mind, the venerable Wharfedale Isodynamic that performs at its best from the get go. The Wharfedale was a revolutionary product in design and conception, the Audez'e is a fitting tribute to the pro-genesis of othodynamic headphones and is well poised to herald a resurrection of a once forgotten technology.

 

In Closing

While my reference headphones are brilliant sounding albeit being closed ones the LCD-2 comes along and says ..hang on there son..this is how you do it.

The LCD-2 has managed to show me that the rabbit hole indeed goes deeper. When I was feeling secure that my bleeding wallet had been patched up for good by my reference headphones, that I had reached a plateau with regards to how good a transducer can sound, that "this is it. It can get no better", the LCD-2 like an erupting volcano raised the bar into the stratosphere and in process made my wallet shrivel back in fear. I quickly realized that the asking price on these headphones was a pittance compared to the pure audio nirvana I was experiencing. Its a bit like watching Top gear with Jeremy Clarkson yelling "Power!!" while power sliding an angry yet sophisticated Ferrari V12 for the entire show. It brings forth the same fun, finesse and importantly, the soul and passion that the creator put into making these headphones. It makes you feel special. It makes you feel you are at one with the music, an extension of the audience Patricia Barber was singing to. The power of speed, detail, vividness in the low frequencies, the midrange seductiveness, its ability to ensconce you in the event that knocks on your eardrums and then make it all seem par for the course. Truly staggering.

I found myself scrambling through my music collection as the time to return them was at hand. As Jim James emotionally sang the last verses of track 8 on Evil Urges serenading his lady, the librarian, I found myself joining in, serenading the delightful little creature called the LCD-2, promising her that we'll be reunited soon.

 

"Simple Little Beauty, Heaven in your breath

Simplest of pleasures, the World at it's best"

Posted

Pros: Natural, Fast, tonally rich, deep bass, seductive mids

Cons: i have to save up for them.

I felt extremely priveledged to be included in the first group of people to hear the long awaited and much anticipated release of Audeze's LCD2. Some history: I am not new to planar magnetic technology and have been an avid fan and disciple of planar magnetic headphones ever since I was lured into the murky waters by the vintage yamaha orthodynamic headphones. If not for the keen efforts of wualta on HeadFi, this dream would most likely not have been realised. I first heard about Audeze when a friend and fellow discple of orthodynamic headphones discovered this small company in California, managed to make contact with them and establish that initial dialogue which brought to us the LCD1 and now the LCD2. I really liked the LCD1, it was my first glimpse at what modern planar drivers were capable of. The LCD1 was a top performer and finally offered a modern headphone that had better performance than the venerable Fostex T50vx. It did most things that one would want from a headphone but finally didn't have the ability to reproduce the bass notes with the authority that they deserved. The LCD1 was

always aimed at being a market entry headphone with limited production, as it used an off the shelf foster frame and cup the biggest weaknss for these drivers in the end as they were more than capable of superb performance. The LCD2 is finally here to continue the promise from this dedicated company. An aside on Audeze - they have been very open to guidance from the experience of the headphone community and have worked hard to address most peoples concerns/requests in their development

process. I would be remiss if I did not mention the HE5 from HeadDirect. This is another planar magnetic headphone which made a surprise appearance at CanJam 09 and has garnered much popularity amongst headphiles. I have had the opportunity to hear 2 versions of this headphone, the earliest suffered some congestion on the bass and a peakiness in the upper mids, the later version had cleaned up the bass with some damping but the peak remained and although it was still a very good headphone, it still needed some fine tuning. I have not yet heard the HE5LE but this was version is supposed to address the concerns noted in the HE5.

 

Back to the LCD2.
Music chain - RED BOOK CD - Yamaha DVD1700(SACD) - highly modified Sonic Frontiers Transdac - direct coupled tube hybrid amplifier with class A mosfet output.


My music preference is vocal/acoustic/jazz/rock/blues/classical

 

Build quility:
Initial impressions on opening the box were very positive. My review sample did not come in the wooden box but that did not detract from my initial impressions. The black grills against the wood immediately caught my eye , not sure if they had me in mind when they were designing these but they sure had my attention. Weighing in at 1/2kg, these headphones leave you with both visual appeal and a tactile sense of anticipation. The overall engineering is rock solid. Steel sprung headband with metal ratchet type arm adjustments allow for a very sturdy feel. No slipping and no movement once they are positioned where you want them. The foam headband has caused a little stir of dissappointment in the community but make no mistake, they are very comfortable. They do not retain the impression of my sophisticted headphone stand ( a large hand clamp). The cups themselves are solid, lovely wood with a simple finish, as it turns out "Hand selected Caribbean Rosewood". The addition of the mini xlr is a welcome addition and offers an elegant solution to custom cable connectors of many manufacturers. The steel  rill is attractive and finishes the overall look of these headphones. Someone described them as "steampunk". The grill trills when you drag a nail over the surface but I cannot hear any resonance concerns with them. They also are able to screw off, allowing the more adventurous to modify and fine tune the sound to their liking. The Pads are substantial and offer great support and seal to create the soundscape that enables notes to be be free and create that ever important soundstage. I was a little concerned about how hard the leather was, but the lambskin do not sweat ( a huge negative of the stock O2 pads ) and they are more comfy than I had anticipated. You are most definitely aware that you are wearing a serious pair of headphones, none of this " I forgot I was even wearing them" but after 3 hours, I still felt comfortable.


I was told that these drivers had only had an hour of play on them and thus I anticipated the need for a little burn in. I naturally could not wait indefinately to hear them and I am not completely sold on the idea of prolonged burn in. To me if it takes 500 hours for a headphone to sound good to you, you have acclimated to the sound signature and learned how to appreciate it. But that is a can of worms for another debate. I had a few hours before I could sit down with them so I put on some white noise and let them warble.

 

The first night I just sat back and listened to them, I can normally pick up on idiosyncracies pretty quickly with casual listening. Nothing jumped out at me and I thoroughly enjoyed the following 3 hours, would I be a prat to say they had PRaT :).

 

The next round comprised listening to some white noise, pink noise and frequency sweeps ( stereophile editors choice test CD ) - subjectively there are no peaks, no inconsistencies, white noise is   homogenous , it extends both high and low.

 

Sound impressions:
An emphasis on impressions - subjective attributes based on personal preferences.

Treble:
I like my headphones to present a detailed top end with air and delicacy. This is evident in most all recordings. Live recordings sound just that, live. The acoustic space and pinpoint timing of a Jazz band is reflected in the percussion, ensuring a particularly intimate experience. Is it the most detailed ortho I have heard, no, some of my orthos are damped to  enhance the top end and moving from such an orthodynamic headphone to the LCD2, the initial reduction in top end energy is  noticeable but that feeling is soon replced by a sense of overall balance and enjoyment. I am sure there will be some who

would like a more pronounced top end, this is afterall a selfish hobby which promotes personal preferences but for me, these headphones offer a perfectly balanced sound.

 

Mids:
The mids are what particularly stand out for me. They have a rich tonal balance with no loss or emphasis, sound "organic" yet are not boring. They have a richness of tone that very few headphones or speakers redropuce, without sounding "lush".  There is no hint of sibilance and will bring even the toughest logger to his knees if he hears xxx (insert favourite female vocalist here) Not many  headphones reproduce the lower mids well as many headphones have a low mid upper bass bump - this directly impacts on the baritone and can often paint a muddled picture in this department. I listened to an assortment of recordings which focus on the voice within an acoustic space, I wish I could share this experience with you. Just breathtaking and absolutely natural.

 

Bass:
The downfall of so many great orthos - do you leave them slightly underdamped so that the bass throbs with a little less control than would be ideal or do you tighten it up so that the bass is several dB down but very tight and accurate. The LCD2 has no problem here - it just keeps going down. The acoustic bass of YoYoMa's cello on the Appalachian Waltz reverberates with multilayered bass that it transfixed me for the moment. I initially thought I heard some low bass warble but it turned out after much listening and reflection that I was hearing bass notes in the music which had never featured in my experience

of the music before. This was only on one particular electronica piece of music which I don't listen to ferquently but does extend the bass notes pretty low. Bach's Toccata's and Fugues sound vivid, Ulanji's bass drum virtuoso is thunderous and never did I feel the bass was congested or lacked definition. Tha bass is tight, punchy, fast and layered with all the texture of the mids. Does it sound as deep as the venerable TP , no, the TP's feel like they have greater impact but they are also closed and lose some of that depth and layering as a consequence.

 

Overall:
I have been modifying vintage orthodynamic headphones for some time and have a good feel for what I am trying to achieve when I start out with any given model. The LCD2 accomplishes many of these objectives and manages to retain an open soundstage  without compromising the depth of bass extention or delicacy of treble articulation and the mids are just "to die for". I knew that my time was coming to an end with this pair of headphones and my final wow came when I listened to a piece of

Scottish Folk music recorded by Linnrecords , William Jacksons CorryVrechan. It is a very dramatic piece of music with wide  dynamic swings, drums, bass, bagpipes, pennywhistle, just a lovely shamble of music. It was the perfect note to finish my experience as it left me feeling invigorated and so completely convinced that these headphones were a must have for my collection. I for one am convinced that this is the advance in magnetic planar technology that I had hoped it would be.

 

..dB

Posted

Pros: Astonishingly good sound - among the very, very best

Cons: Comfort is only fair

Intro

 

Wow – another contender in the high-end headphone market!  Amazing.  I was pretty excited about the emergence of some planar magnetic headphones when I first heard about these and the HifiMan HE-5.  I was a Magneplanar speaker guy for many years – until my kids were born.  Loved them.  Sadly, they were too big a target for the kids, and so they got sold.  But I was very excited about being able to get some planar sound in headphones!  So excited that I rushed to pay just shy of $1,000 for the privilege…

 

They are very beautifully made, and ship in a beautiful wood box:

 

 

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Sources used for this review:    VPI Scoutmaster with Benz LP-S > Eddie Current Transcription phono amp, Audio By VanAlstine Fet-Valve Ultra-Dac (from Denon DVD-5900 or iPod and Wadia i170 serving as transports, and Assemblage jitter filter/re-clocking device); Red Wine Audio iMod iPod with ALO VCap dock.

 

 

Some observations about the LCD-2 though in terms of their ergonomics/design:

 

1. They are very attractive

2. They are pretty big

3. They do seem to clamp quite fiercely

4. The leather earpads are awesome

5. The headband though - just a piece of open-cell foam glued to the metal?  In a $1,000 headphone?  That is absurd.  It's comfortable, but there is no way that uncovered open-cell foam will last a year.  It's such a pity to mar the beautiful looks with the crummy open-cell foam.  Wrap it in some leather, Audez'e!  C'Mon!  I would much rather have a leather headband and a cardboard box than the beautiful wood box they included.  I'm already trying to figure out how I will fix this.  Some leather, some snaps, and some trial and error...

 

 Anyway, after some stretching and some adjustments, the LCD-2 are no longer uncomfortable.  I would call them "comfortable", but not “very comfortable”, really, but at least they aren't actually UNcomfortable anymore.  I can wear them for quite a long while without issue.  But they set no benchmarks in this regard.

 

Another ergonomic issue - I cannot turn my head from side to side wearing these very easily, due to the stiffness of the cable combined with the length of the connector.

 

 

Amping the Beast

 

Well, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that with the Leben CS300X, the LCD-2 is absolutely astonishing.  The Leben with the LCD-2 provides a level of sound quality I have not personally experienced before from headphones. I've spent many late hours just excitedly going from  track to test track. All of them have been a treat. It really has to be heard to be believed.

Now the bad news - the LCD-2 exhibit, to some degree, a slightly rolled off treble with all of my OTL tube amps. I actually first thought the LCD-2 had a rolled off treble. It doesn't. But when used with OTL tube amps that have an output impedance higher than the LCD-2’s impedance, the treble is rolled off. With the transformer-coupled Leben - no roll off at all. Just open, clean, super-transparent and super-smooth. And I mean WIDE open sounding. Great detail without any etch or force. And the soundstage is astonishing.

Vexed a little by this, I spent some time with the LCD-2 on the Meier Concerto. It has plenty of juice to drive them for sure, and no treble roll off for sure (got to love that 0.1 ohm output impedance).   The Concerto and the LCD-2 are a good pairing.  The sound is very nearly as good as I described above with the Leben - not quite, as the Leben is the better amp IMO, but for the money, the Concerto is excellent, and the sound from the LCD-2 via the Concerto is open, transparent, and extended as it was on the Leben.  The soundstaging is also excellent on the Concerto, although here again I think the Leben has a slight edge.

But not so much on either the Decware CSP-2 or my modded Singlepower Extreme. The LCD-2 sound very good on those amps, but not as good as they are capable of sounding. With the Leben - they are just amazing.  The roll-off with the CSP-2 isn't as noticeable as I originally thought.  Once I had a lot of time to spend with them, and I was able to try a bunch of different things, I ended up feeling that the LCD-2 are best with the Leben, and second best with the SS Meier Concerto, but the CSP-2 does a pretty good job, really.  And just for grins I tried them with the J Sound Lab Headphone, which, while pretty cheap, is transformer coupled, and actually sounded pretty good with the LCD-2 at reasonable levels.  The only amp that I have that will not work at all with the LCD-2 is the RSA Stealth, which just distorts at even moderate levels - which I found very surprising, as it did very well with the 70 ohm DX1000.  But it is what it is.

 

So in sum on amps, the Singlepower Extreme and the Decware CSP-2 had enough power for the LCD-2, but with slightly rolled off highs (and probably some other slight frequency response aberrations due to the impedance mismatch that were just less obvious).  Just to be clear, all of these amps drive the Beyerdynamic T1 very, very well.  But they did a less good job with the LCD-2.  Strong solid-state or a high-quality transformer-coupled tube amp will be needed, or an OTL tube amp that has been designed with a very low output impedance (of which I am not aware of very many...) to get the best of what the LCD-2 can offer.  The sound with the Decware CSP-2 was plenty good, really – just not what the LCD-2 are ultimately capable of, and if you’re going to pay almost $1,000 for a headphone…you want to get the most out of them. 

 

What's fascinating about the LCD-2 is that it actually requires less volume from my CSP-2 than the HE-5LE does.   The LCD-2 also requires more volume from the CSP-2 than the T1, but this does not surprise me.  And I was also a little surprised that the LCD-2 brought the Stealth completely to its knees, even though I know that it isn't meant for super-low impedance cans.  I need to try my impedance-matching transformer and see what that does.

 

Quirky beast the LCD-2.  Pickiest headphone about amplification I have had.  I don't want to overplay this - the LCD-2 still sound good with the SP Extreme and the Decware CSP-2 - just not as good as they can sound.  But given that they did not work at all with the Stealth, they will not be a "buy them and use them with whatever amp you own" kind of headphone.  Paired with the right amp, though, the sound is remarkably natural and lifelike - very impressively so.  So be warned - amp matching will be critical.

 

 

The Sound

 

I listened several  nights WAAAAAY past my bedtime - that combo, the LCD-2 and the Leben was just amazing me - the soundstage especially was the best I ever recall hearing.  I wish I had the HD800 to compare - I have a feeling the soundstaging capability of the LCD-2 is even better than the HD800, which formerly is the best I have ever heard.  The LCD-2 as heard through the Leben puts a truly holographic soundscape out a little in front of the listener with a depth and width I do not recall getting before, and in an unbelievable natural way.  The delicacy of the treble on the LCD-2 is something special too. It has a purity, nuance, and articulate combined with a complete lack of fatigue or etch. It’s pretty special in this regard.

 

I can say, however, that some people will not like the treble balance.  I think it is absolutely spot on, neither soft nor bright, but for people who like their treble W5000-style, the LCD-2 will not play. I, on the other hand, do not like to have the highs forced on me, and so I am like the balance on top.  In fact, it's very hard for me to understand how some people who were HD800 fans like the LCD-2 so much.  It's definitely a different tonal balance from that.  Super-smooth, lots of detail, and ultra-natural sounding, with great transparency.  But not at all fatiguing or hyper-analytical.  Very subtle instruments, like the triangle strikes in Carbon Leaf’s “Let Your Troubles Roll By” were very easy to hear without being overly emphasized in a way that I felt the HD800 presented that sort of thing.  Effortless, and natural – I kept thinking this.

 

There is something to the planar treble that seems to lack a grain that all dynamics have, even if you don’t realize it’s there.  I had thought the Beyerdynamic T1 wad a completely grain-free treble.  And while it is indeed very transparent, the LCD-2 is even cleaner and more pure than the T1.  The T1 does have a treble balance most similar to the LCD-2 of all my dynamics – but the LCD-2 is slightly more refined and detailed, while being slightly smoother too.  A neat trick!

 

Down low, things are equally as impressive. The bass on the LCD-2 (again via the Concerto and/or the Leben) is really quite something.  It doesn't call attention to itself until required by the recording, but then it is reproduced full measure.  No lack of texture or definition, either - outstanding performance in that regard, in fact.  The bass notes in Goldfrapp’s “Koko” from “Supernature” were powerful, but had great nuance and texture.

 

I decided to test the bass response of the LCD-2.  I tested both the LCD-2 and the Ed 8, using the Stereophile test CD 3, and my SPL meter, set for "C" weighting, which accounts for the Fletcher-Munson roll-off.  The LCD-2 was shockingly flat to 25 Hz - measuring right around 72dBC from 200-25 Hz - only the 20Hz tone was rolled off, and even there by only about 4 dB.  I could not HEAR 20 Hz from these headphones, but I don't think people can really hear 20 Hz via headphones, because you really feel 20Hz more than hear it, and headphones don't really allow for this.  I could hear the 25 Hz tone very clearly from the LCD-2.

 

By way of comparison, the Ed 8 I felt like I could actually hear 20 Hz a little more, but it might have just been doubling.  It measured a little less flat, but still +/- 4 db from 200-20 Hz.  Note that I made no attempt here to measure the relative bass levels between the LCD-2 and Ed 8 – I was just measuring the two for bass extension and smoothness.

 

 

Here again, however, some people will find the bass from the LCD-2 to be too much.  It absolutely does not color the rest of the spectrum, but I have been around head-fi long enough to know there is a large faction that thinks that accurate bass is a lot less bass than I personally think is natural.  This is an age-old argument – which part of the hall do you like?  The W5000 is front-of-hall – bright treble and very restrained bass.  The HD800 is mid-front.  The T1 and the LCD-2 are mid-hall.  The JVC DX1000 is mid-back.  You pays your money and you takes your choice.  I’m a mid-hall kind of guy, I guess.  But if you think the W5000 have an ideal bass balance, the LCD-2 will not be for you.

 

And then there is the midrange.  It’s just as natural as you could possibly hope for.  Again, ahead of my rather esteemed pack of headphones – T1, Edition 8, D7000, DX1000, W1000X – better than all of these, for sure.  Amazing transparency, and an almost fascinating degree of naturalness – this was really kind of a revelation, because I didn’t just respect the mids – I loved them – and yet there was no coloration there I could detect at all.  The Beyer T1 sounds a tiny bit artificially ripe in comparison, but not in a way that means the LCD-2’s mids are in any way thin – far from it.  The T1 are terrific in the mids – but the LCD-2 are slightly better.  Female vocals were really wonderful – I was shocked when listening to Nightwish’s “Ocean Soul” – it was almost as if I’d never heard the song correctly played back before.  Mary Black’s cover of Richard Thompson’s “I Misunderstood” from her “Shine” record was also enthralling for it’s incredibly unforced, natural presentation.

 

And oh, the soundstage.  So deep, so wide, and so well defined – and not only between the ears, but out in front of the head.  No question the best of any of the headphones I have.  Perhaps the HD800 is as good or better – since I no longer have them I don’t feel I can accurately say.  But the imaging qualities of the LCD-2 are terrific.  For someone who really values a holographic soundstage highly, the LCD-2 are sure to please.  Listening to some live Alison Krauss was enthralling – it felt so much like the performance was really going on it was a little spooky.  This effect was more noticeable with the Leben than the Meier, but it was definitely there with both.

 

 

Comparisons

 

Compared to the HE-5LE, I can confirm that the LCD-2 require less juice from my amps than the HE-5LE do.  The HE-5LE do not seem to have the same issue with being rolled off in the treble by my OTL amps, though.   As much as I like the HE-5LE, with the right amp, the LCD-2 is a significant step above the HE-5LE in terms of performance (although not ergonomics - I find the HE-5LE to be more comfortable).  The HE-5LE are excellent.  The LCD-2, talking just about sonics, are superlative.  I think the HE-5LE provide a huge taste of planar goodness for a relatively affordable price, and they are highly competitive in their price range.  But the LCD-2 are more neutral, more transparent, and more nuanced.  That isn’t an indictment of the HE-5LE as much as praise for the LCD-2.

The LCD-2 versus the Beyer T1 is more interesting.  The T1 is outstanding IMO.  It is also infinitely more comfortable than the LCD-2, again IMO of course (like this whole review!).  And the overall spectral balance is somewhat similar.  The T1 seems a little lush in comparison, and somehow just slightly less immediate.  As mentioned above, it’s also just slightly less transparent.  Being 600 ohm, it will mate better with some amps than the LCD-2, and as such, will be a better choice in some systems, and it’s close enough in performance that I wouldn’t toss a T1/high-end amp combo that sounds great in favor of trying the LCD-2.  But if you have a great solid-state or transformer-coupled tube amp, then the LCD-2 might synergize better than the T1 – perhaps. 

 

I would rate them for sound: LCD-2 > T1 > HE-5LE - but they are all truly excellent sounding

 

I would rate them for comfort: T1 > HE-5LE  > LCD-2 - the T1 and HE-5LE being very comfortable, and the LCD-2 being just fair (but after some break in no longer truly UNcomfortable).

 

 

Conclusion

 

So what are the LCD-2?  A fairly expensive, high-end headphone that offers absolutely world-class sonics, is picky about the pairing amp, looks beautiful, and is only somewhat comfortable.  So where does that leave them?  I will certainly be keeping the pair I bought.  But it’s not a no brainer to plunk down a kilobuck when there are a few gotchas.  I suggest trying to find a way to hear a pair – but also to have them on your head for a while, if possible.  And you’ll need to read a lot of opinions here on head-fi about what amps will work well.  But given these caveats – the LCD-2 is pretty impressive.  It has delivered some true musical magic for me.

Posted

Pros: Overall Sound Quality; Deep Bass; Natural; Midrange; Angled Ear Pads and THE LOOK!

Cons: Price Range; Must be paired with the right setup

My Setup:

 

  • Lossless FLAC using MediaMonkey with WASAPI drivers.
  • $10 USB cable
  • ALO PanAm Amp
  • Siemens Tubes / Russian Tubes
  • Standard Cable
  • LCD2 v.2

 

My Review:

 

In order to write this review I have been listening to this setup for over a 100 hours. So I am quite sure everything is burned in by now. The sound quality is simply beautiful! I listen to pretty much everything except Rap and I have not find any problems with these headphones. I cannot ear any background noise (more due to the amp I imagine). I do not believe into the all and precise description of the sound range because it is completely different for everybody. But I found the sound really clean and natural. I was pleasantly surprised by delivery of the sound thanks to those "massive" and angled ear pads. Indeed, the sound-stage is wonderful in my opinion.

I would recommend these headphones to anyone that want to rediscover their favorite tracks. I have not tried the LCD2 with any other setup, however, when I do I will update this review!

Posted

Pros: Liquid, refined bass, beautiful mids, amazing transience and presentation, glorious highs, competitive price

Cons: Huge and dorky looking, has been said to be heavy to the point of inducing pain

I would like to preface this by saying I've not had the kind of time I had with my Denon AH-D7000s - which were my favorite headphones that got almost 100% of head-time and hundreds of hours of use - as I have with my LCD-2s.  However, I shall be using them as the basis of comparison since I found - and still find - the D7000s to be an amazing pair of headphones, especially for their price point.  I bought these headphones at the beginning of September with the intention of getting a sample of their sound and perhaps even making them my top choice of headphone.  For the sake of reference, I was using a Nuforce Icon HDP as a DAC and amp.  At this point, I can definitely say they are now my go-to headphones.  On to the review!
Revision: After having spent six months with these headphones, I've come to a few new conclusions that I think are worthy of sharing.  These new conclusions will be based partly on my experiences with the LCD-2s and the Audio GD NFB-10SE - a combo I am loving - and the much extended listening time I've had since the original review.  The revised sections will be marked as such.

Packaging and Design 
   This was the most over-packaged headphone I've ever bought.  It was in the beautiful wooden box, with foam, inside of another cardboard box, inside of a larger cardboard box.  The box that carries the LCD-2 itself is a dark, polished wood with the Audez'e logo on the bottom right of the lid.  Inside is red silk(?), and some foam on the inside of the lid to protect the LCD-2s.  The LCD 2s smelled strongly of Oak - due to the wood polish, I presume - and leather.  The headphones themselves are extremely sturdy and heavy (this will be discussed further in the 'comfort and use' section).  These won't be breaking anytime soon.  
   These are completely open, and although very attractive and stylish looking off the head, look absolutely foolish while on the skull.  The headphone jack is a large, silver 1/4 inch (or 6.33 mm) plug with a bit of black rubber that screws on.  Overall, these headphones are sturdy and well-made, but I gave them a half-star less because of the weight and how ridiculous they look on the head.

Comfort and Use
  This seemed to be a point of contention on the LCD-2 thread before it was locked.  I will admit it's a bit of hit-and-miss in terms of comfort, but I found having the large back end of the leather pads sitting at the point where the jaw meets the neck is prime.  These aren't nearly as comfortable as my Denon D7000s - which disappear on the head without question -, but for somebody with an enormous noggin' (I have to adjust it almost all the way up) it's not so bad.  If you have a small head and/or neck, you'll have to get adjusted to the heftiness of the LCD-2s.  The clamp force is a measure greater than what I expected or am used to, which may become an issue depending on the music you're listening to or how long you use them.

Sound
     
     Highs:  The highs on the LCD-2s are brilliant.  The Beyer Dt990s up until hearing the LCD-2s had the best highs I had ever heard, especially paired with a warm amp.  However, once listening to Dream Theater, Rush, and various classical music, I have found a clear winner.  Sibilant is not even in the same building as these headphones.  Cymbals and hi-hats are perfectly crisp, high vocals are engaging and wonderful.  There is absolutely no artificial tonality to these headphones.  It feels as if the singer is in the room with you as the music plays.  I used to think the Denons had natural-sounding highs, but the LCD-2s are far superior.  A word of advice, though:  these headphones, like most, shine when given proper recording.  Give it a 128 kbps, and you won't feel the magic.  I can definitely say the mids and bass on these cans are definitely their strong point, but the highs are certainly no slouch.
     Revision: The highs are heavily dependent on how well textured the amp or source is.  My Nuforce is a bit laid back, at least in comparison with my NFB, so the highs weren't as articulate as they could be. With the NFB, the highs are distinct and well-articulated, but it seems to bring the highs themselves closer to an in-your-face Grado signature.  The strengths of the LCD-2 highs - natural, non-sibilant and engaging - were amplified, but very occasionally the highs were striding the fence on sibilant.  

     Mids:  The crown prince of mids has earned his title.  The vocals are never harsh, or artificial.  Every note is sweet and perfectly executed.  "Spanish Harlem", a song I've noticed thrown around a lot as a benchmark for engaging mids, sounds mesmerizing on these headphones.  It's like Rebecca Pidgeon is whispering into your ear the entire song.  Voice has a very live, natural quality to it.  I had never realized how recessed the midrange had been on my Denons or M50s until having heard these.  Listening to the song "Autumn Serenade" from "Standards" is stunning.  The Denons have sweet, engaging vocals, but the LCD-2s bring life and naturalness to singing in a way no other headphone can.  Another song by Livingston Taylor, "Grandma's Hands", is conveyed with a natural energy that I've yet to hear again.  There is no negative to the mids.  If you enjoy mids, go for a pair of LCD-2s.  You will not be disappointed by any means.
    Revision: The mids are, and remain to be, the strength of the LCD-2s.  In general, the NFB provides a lot more power and articulation than the Nuforce did, which lends better distinction to the vocals.  This shouldn't be mistaken for emphasis or edginess.  Mid-range clarity and naturalness is merely enhanced, as if the singer cleared their throat and gave it some extra oomph.

   Bass:  The bass of the LCD-2s does not have the impact of my D7000s, by any stretch.  That is something you will notice immediately coming from a pair of fun and bassy headphones to these.  Although it doesn't have as much impact as a pair of D7000s, it certainly has plenty of impact to spare.  With the song "Slam" by Pendulum, the first minute or so of the song can be a challenge for a headphone to really deliver the kind of 'Slam' for which the song is titled.  The LCD-2s do so perfectly, and with a refinement that trumps the Denons.  A very good test of bass is the song "Failure in the Flesh" by Through the Eyes of the Dead, which can also be challenging for a headphone to do properly.  On the LCD-2s, the drum notes and vocals have a beautiful union of force and refinement.   There is no muddiness whatsoever, no matter how low or how strong the bass goes.  The bass on these beauties is liquid, refined and extended.
    Revision: As with the mids, the bass isn't necessarily emphasized over the rest of the frequency range.  Everything in the lower end is just better articulated, textured and powered over the Nuforce's performance.  I would also compare the change in signature from the Nuforce to NFB with leaning towards the AKG, but the bass proves this not to be.  Bass notes are tighter, punchier and faster, but still fast and natural.  
    Soundstage:  Oh yes, soundstage.  Most closed headphones simply can't compete with open headphones in terms of soundstage, and the LCD-2s don't make me disbelieve this.  The soundstage is much wider than my Denons - which I believe is again from the open design -, and much deeper.  All the notes feel as if they're placed accurately and distinctly in space.  Listen to any drum-heavy song, and you'll understand what it really means to feel the music.  "Festival De Teum" feels down right ethereal through these cans.  If that choir is 10 feet above you, and thirty feet forward, you'll definitely know it with these headphones.
   Revision: Not much to say here, but I definitely feel like soundstage was improved.  This might be because presence and transience are far improved, so each note feels distinct in space, but I do believe depth is noticeably better.
   Presence and Transience:  One of my problems with choosing which headphone stays or goes was how different the presentation was between the Denons and LCD-2s.  The D7000s have, hands-down, some of the best instrument separation and presence I've ever heard.  However, after a lot of listening to the LCD-2s, I've decided I prefer them.  Everything is transparent and clear through these headphones, which was a caveat for the Denons.  As with soundstage, any drum-heavy track will reveal just how well these headphones do Presence, and how quickly.  The Dt990s are the fastest headphones I've ever heard by far, but the LCD-2s aren't too far behind.  Cymbals have a crisp, clean quality, and every note feels distinct.
   Revision: If you had a problem with the LCD-2's presence and transience, the NFB will fix it in kind.  Every single part of the music is distinct, clear and clean.  This might be the largest improvement I heard from the NFB, and generally brings the LCD-2s closer to the Grados or AKGs in this respect.  Heavy metal, rock and classical all benefit extremely well from this enhancement.  It's almost as if the LCD-2s were veiled with the Nuforce, and now it's being set free by the change in source/amp.
 Conclusion:  These are all around the best headphones I've ever heard.  Nothing sounds bad on them, and everything feels natural, transparent and liquid.  According to the FR graph, these headphones are reasonably neutral, and I have to agree.  They're not bottom-heavy like my Denons were, or too focused in the mids and highs like I find my Grado Sr-80s.  They're not as comfortable as my Denons by a large margin, and might cause some fatigue after extended listening.  When properly amped, they can deliver sweet musical bliss.  I only have experience with the Meier Opera and Nuforce Icon HDP, but the Amp Recommendations thread has impressions for every amp under the sun with these.  Overall, I would definitely recommend this to any headphone user (if you have $1000 to drop) with a proper amp and a large cranium.
  Revision: The LCD-2s are truly chameleons in the way they respond to changes in amps.  The sound signature remains slightly dark, and their strengths are the same - transparency, clarity, midrange, naturalness, etc. - but each amp seems to add its flavor to the headphones themselves.  I wouldn't say it's drastic, as with the Paradox t50 mods, but it's certainly noticeable.

Posted

Pros: Full-bodied mid-range, relatively close to neutral- & natural-sounding, music genre versatility

Cons: Suffocatingly-small soundstage, lack of clarity & musical dynamics, physically heavy & uncomfortable

Originally published on April 11, 2011

Updated on December 11, 2011

 

Note: this review is an exact cross-post from post #1 of this thread on Head-Fi, which contains some user discussion on the review that may be relevant to read: http://www.head-fi.org/t/548875/review-audeze-lcd-2-r1-r2-hifiman-he-6-stax-sr-507-stax-oii-mki-bhse-et-al


- download a printable 9-page PDF version of this review (right-click the link & save target)
- download a printable 15-page PDF version of the notes that were written for this review (right-click the link & save target). The notes should be considered a supplement and not a replacement for this review (as the review is not straight from the notes). The notes for this review in particular are HIGHLY-RECOMMENDED reading for anyone who wants the in-depth details of how most of the headphones directly compared to each other.

Intro

Not much really needs to be said to "intro" this review—it's basically just a multi-way review of various mid-level & flagship headphones, which were all owned at different points in time. Every comparison below was a simultaneous one though, and notes from every listening session were saved over the course of a few months. My review process is always at least several months (to get familiar with the equipment being evaluated) and this review was no exception.

A big disclaimer I want to add: the HiFiMan HE-6 and Stax SR-507 were the only headphones that did not get extensive listening time. I had the HE-6 in-house (on loan from another Head-Fi member) for only a couple of weeks, and the SR-507 has been in my possession for just over a week as I write this. So my opinion of the HE-6 and SR-507 should not be considered finalized.

 

This was originally a review of the LCD-2 r1 (revision 1). Review update on December 11, 2011, was for a new section covering the r2 (revision 2), see below.

Reviewer Biases & Info

My view of a headphone system is "source first" followed by headphones and then amp. In other words, a source of highest quality possible (assuming recordings of high quality also) should be paired with the most preferential-sounding headphone(s), to be driven by the most technically-optimal amp. In my view, the most technically-optimal amp is the one that provides sufficient power for all headphones being used without inflecting its own sonic signature, or minimally at least.

Some portions of the review below refer to the sound of live instruments. As an FYI to put those references into the proper context, I'm a trained violinist (learned via the Suzuki method for 12 years starting at age 6, then quit lessons at 18 and have been playing on and off since, and I'm 30 now) and have had the opportunity several times to play in a symphony orchestra, and I've attended classical-music concerts as well.

Equipment Setup

- Source component: Plinius CD-101 (CD player) (power cord: Signal Cable Silver Resolution Reference - directly into wall)
- Analog interconnects: Analysis Plus Silver Oval RCA & XLR
- Headphone amplifiers: HeadAmp GS-X and Nugget Audio B22 for the dynamic headphones, where noted. HeadAmp Blue Hawaii SE for the Stax SR-507 and SR-007 (OII MKI).

Evaluation Music

CDs by the following artists/bands, by genre:

- Americana/Bluegrass/Folk: Alison Krauss & Union Station, Priscilla Ahn, Sierra Hull
- Blues: Eric Clapton, Eva Cassidy
- Classical: Hilary Hahn (Bach), Julia Fischer (Bach), Carlos Kleiber & VPO (Beethoven), Pierre Boulez & VPO (Mahler)
- Electronica/Trip-Hop: Massive Attack, Orbital, The Crystal Method, The Prodigy, Trifonic, Zero 7, Zero One
- Jazz: Dave Brubeck, Lee Morgan, Steve Kuhn, Tord Gustavsen
- Rock: Led Zeppelin, Porcupine Tree, Radiohead, Tool
- Metal: Emperor, Helloween, In Flames, Megadeth, Nightwish, Symphony X

Specific tracks on the CDs are given in the review notes (see the PDF, linked at the top).

Audeze LCD-2, overall

LCD-2 w/ 2010 stock and ADZ-5 cables. Amps: GS-X in unbalanced mode and B22.

When I first got the Audeze LCD-2 in September 2010, I was unimpressed. It was dark-sounding (not a whole lot of treble quantity), closed-in (not much "air" to the sound, which made it borderline suffocating to me), and it lacked general bass drive. But my amp at that time, a Rockhopper-built M3, might not have been optimal for it. Later on in early 2011, with the HeadAmp GS-X and the Moon Audio Silver Dragon XLR re-cable, the LCD-2 turned into something much more promising when driven in balanced mode. It had very solid & physical bass, actually even better than my Audio-Technica AD2000—very deep, heavy, and low-sounding, not just in the lowest bass but throughout the mid-bass and up into the mid-range. I'd call the LCD-2's overall bass & mid-range almost sneaky in a way—doing a subtle yet fantastic job at making you think vocalists and instruments like acoustic double-bass, bass guitar, etc, are right there in front of you because of how low, full, & "fat" they are, whereas most other headphones just lack that presence factor. The only other headphones in the round-up that offered a similar type of presence factor were the Grado HP1000 and Stax OII MKI.

There are 4 headphone "classes" that I personally define: excellent, above-average, average, and below-average. For reference, there are only a few headphones I classify as excellent: Qualia 010, OII MKI, and JH13 (IEMs). (Not that I think they're flawless though.) I'd classify the LCD-2 as above-average, in the company of headphones like the Beyerdynamic T1, Grado HP1000, and Sennheiser HD800. I don't think any of these headphones to be "better" than one another per se—they all have their trade-offs, the LCD-2 included.

So what I mean by my "above-average" classification is that the LCD-2 is very good—it's just not the best of the best that I've heard. I've heard the LCD-2 on a variety of amps so far—SPL Auditor, Rockhopper-built M3, Schiit Asgard, Avenson Audio Headphone Amp, HeadAmp Gilmore Lite & GS-X, and Nugget-built B22. The best I've heard from the LCD-2 has been with the GS-X in balanced mode and the B22. And with those two amps, the LCD-2's sound can be summed up as bassy, full, assertive/direct, and fast (as in impulse response). It's one of the most mid-range-focused headphones I've heard with a heavy slant towards the mids, mid-bass, & bass in general, and it offers a sufficiently different sound than any of the other headphones that were compared that one could easily find an excuse to own it along with any of the others. But if one can afford to buy only one headphone, or just a few at most, I'd call the LCD-2 an instant recommendation for anyone who doesn't really like treble very much and is seeking bass & mid-range more, for listening to music like classical/soundtracks, jazz, electronica/trip-hop, pop/rock, and/or metal. Not that I think the LCD-2 excels at any one of those genres, but it handles them all to varying degrees of success.

 

LCD-2, revision 2

LCD-2 r2 w/ Moon Audio Silver Dragon XLR on HeadAmp GS-X. Also with stock ADZ-6 cable on Schiit Audio Lyr.

The r1 LCD-2 that was originally used for this review was sold shortly after it was written, in April 2011. The primary reason I sold it was due to its relatively mediocre sonic performance, at least for me. After the r2 was introduced, I decided I wanted to try it and finally bought one in October 2011, so my impressions of the r2 are now about 2 months ongoing (as I write this new section, it's December 2011).

Without a direct comparison to the r1, which I was unable to do, I can't say with any certainty how the two revisions compared to each other. But I will say that the r2 seemed to sound very similar to the r1 that I previously owned, and more to the point, just about as good—I'd say it retained the "very good" quality level that I gave to the r1. Having now heard the r1 and r2—both in the exact same way, balanced on the GS-X—I'd also argue that the LCD-2 benefits from balanced operation, because the r2 sounded just as good, if not better, than the r1, when balanced on my GS-X.

In spite of not having any experience of the r2 directly versus the r1, I feel that this review as originally written completely applies to my thoughts on the r2 in addition to the r1, and I mean that in both the good and bad implications. It means that for every aspect that I thought was good about the r1, I thought the r2 was just as good; but for every aspect I thought was less than stellar, I didn't think any of them were fixed with the r2 either—specifically the areas in which I criticized the r1 versus my electrostatic system (OII/BHSE). Scale, dynamics (including intensity), clarity, soundstage, etc, were not significantly improved on the r2 enough that any of them were rectified for me. My conclusion was that the OII/BHSE absolutely sonically crushed the r2 in the same way it crushed the r1.

The Schiit Lyr was an informative experience for me as well—proving to me that an amp with loads of power output doesn't necessarily translate to better sound. I thought the HeadAmp GS-X in balanced mode (2W @ 32 Ohms in balanced mode) sonically crushed the Schiit Lyr (6W @ 32 Ohms) and the r2 sounded significantly better on the GS-X than it did the Lyr. I wrote a review of the Schiit Lyr and it can be found here: http://www.head-fi.org/products/schiit-lyr/reviews/10264

vs AKG K701

LCD-2 w/ Moon Audio Silver Dragon XLR. K701 w/ SAA Equinox XLR. Amp: GS-X, in balanced mode.

The K701 was my original favorite headphone before the AD2K (below)—I owned it from April 2006 up to January of this year. Over that time my opinion of it grew increasingly negative though, and at my peak of negative opinion, I thought it was one of the most average headphones I still had. Not that it was terrible, but it just didn't do anything especially good, for any type of music. So the LCD-2 really had almost nothing to go up against for me here. In almost all cases, it eclipsed the K701, offering much more natural tonality on orchestral instruments with a more realistic soundstage, more powerful and filling bass & mid-range, more overall clarity, a faster impulse response, and more diffusion (forced "separation" between musical layers to spread them out from each other more). The only thing the K701 really brought to the table was its usual forward female vocals but even that I don't consider a good quality on every music type, or every female vocalist for that matter (as it tends to deepen upper-register voices, Alison Krauss being just one example).

vs Audio-Technica AD2000

LCD-2 w/ 2010 stock cable. AD2K w/ APS V3. Amp: GS-X, in unbalanced mode.

I've owned the AD2000 (AD2K for short) since June 2006 and it's become my #1 favorite headphone of all time. It started out as my headphone preference for electronica/trip-hop but is now also my preference for metal. One of the biggest reasons I like it as much as I do is due to its forward-moving, insistent sound—not a quality I've heard from any other headphones to date. It's hard to explain this forward-moving insistent quality—there's an extreme tightness to its sound overall, and on fast music it really keeps up the tempo (the musical term for "speed"). On fast music especially, it has the drive of something running really fast, like a runner leaping over endless hurdles without running out of breath. On complex, heavy bass lines, it can charge through like it's Superman smashing through boulders.

The LCD-2 had a lot going up against here simply because I've had the AD2K for years and have gotten so used to it, I couldn't imagine liking anything else for electronica/trip-hop & metal. So it was a huge surprise when I found that the LCD-2 did really well on those music types too—good enough that I'd absolutely recommend it for those music types. It could easily come in at a #2 favorite spot if I added one. For all intents & purposes, it approximately matched the AD2K's impulse response (audibly, that is), while adding an appreciated dose of heavy, deep, & physical bass. I've never thought the AD2K to really lack bass, but against the LCD-2, it sounded light-weight in comparison—but at the same time, the AD2K also had more treble quantity than the LCD-2, so it was somewhat of a trade-off. I wouldn't really say the LCD-2 is great for every sub-genre of electronica though—I thought it was best on breakbeat, trance, & techno (though a disclaimer here as I don't listen to every sub-genre).

I wouldn't say either of the headphones was better than the other but I still prefer the AD2K, at least for the music types mentioned. It has a forward/up-close, very assertive & direct sound that's addictive for metal in particular—its insistent quality makes the fast drumming in most of metal really stand out. I consider the LCD-2 more versatile though, as it handled other genres relatively well too, in addition to electronica/trip-hop & metal—classical & jazz specifically, which I don't listen to at all on the AD2K, because its mid-range makes acoustic instruments sound unnatural.

vs Grado HP1000/HP2

LCD-2 w/ Moon Audio Silver Dragon XLR. HP2 w/ APureSound V3 XLR. Amp: GS-X, in balanced mode.

Among all the headphones that I've heard to date, none have matched the HP1000's "living soul" x-factor, but the LCD-2 got the closest. This is an extremely unexplainable aspect of the HP1000 though—you have to hear it to understand it, and while the LCD-2 got very close, it still didn't deliver a true breath-of-life quality to orchestral music. The only other headphone I've heard to match or exceed the HP1000 in this aspect is the Stax OII MKI when amped by the HeadAmp BHSE.

It's tricky to sum up the LCD-2 vs HP1000, as there were various subtle differences. So although this glosses over the finer details, the HP2 could be described as a version of the LCD-2 with: more natural tonality on strings, brass, & woodwind instruments; more treble; a more solid, tighter bass component; more bombast when the recording calls for it; a substantially "richer" and deeper mid-range with a greater degree of texture; a smaller, compressed soundstage; and a more "integrated" type of imaging that made the orchestra sound less like disparate instrument sections and more like a unified body of sections all playing together. All of these aspects made the HP2 sound really good with jazz too, maybe even better than the LCD-2, as it provided more of an intimate setup with the jazz group, throwing you right in with the group (almost as if making you another group member to jam along with them), instead of sitting back from a distance, as the LCD-2 did instead.

vs HiFiMan HE-6

LCD-2 w/ ADZ-5 cable. Amp: B22.

The only thing I conclusively came away with after this comparison was a dislike and negative opinion of the HE-6. I found very few redeeming qualities to this headphone.

The one headphone the HE-6 reminded me most of was the Qualia 010 due to a loosely-similar treble response, but IMO the Qualia's treble is king and the HE-6 nowhere near matched it. The Qualia had the clearest, cleanest treble I've ever heard from headphones, with true razor precision, and the HE-6 simply lacked this quality. It failed to deliver clean high-speed zings, for example, or proper metallic sheens, on bluegrass-type music. The HE-6 did have a very wide, deep, & open soundstage, but that too is eclipsed by the Qualia. So as far as the HE-6 and Qualia go, I think anyone who actually likes the HE-6's treble or soundstage and wants even more would likely find a lot to like from the Qualia.

The HE-6 to me fell in the same trap as the Qualia did—I thought it fared best with bluegrass & ambient electronica due to the treble response and insufficient balance of mid-range & bass. Like the Qualia, the HE-6 was relatively thin in the mid-range (though probably not as thin as the Qualia) and did not have very much bass—though more bass than the Qualia. This made it completely unsuitable to me for every type of music that wasn't bluegrass or ambient electronica—for classical it made violins too screechy, for jazz it made brass instruments too weak-sounding & distant, for electronica it lacked bass power & force, and for rock & metal it was way too thin- and passive-sounding. It was just way too much of a weak-sounding headphone overall. The LCD-2 in contrast was a polar opposite with its full & heavy mid-range and bass, almost like a yin-yang relationship.

The HE-6 was a poor-fitting headphone as well on my small-ish head and I was never able to get a secure fit with it. At the lowest adjustment it still didn't fit my head and I had to put a hand towel under the headband to situate the earcups high enough to level with my ears.

vs JH Audio JH13

LCD-2 w/ ADZ-5 cable. Amp: GS-X, in unbalanced mode.

If there was one thing that this comparison proved, it's that the JH13 was a far easier headphone load, and that the GS-X under-drove the LCD-2 in unbalanced mode. But the GS-X is probably the only amp in the world that can drive both of them realistically, because it has unity gain for the JH13 and High gain + balanced output for the LCD-2. How did they compare, though? The frequency balance was very similar, but the JH13 had lower, more powerful bass. The biggest difference though was that the JH13 was more closed-in (not as much "air" within the soundstage) while the LCD-2 was more open-sounding with more "air" between instruments/layers in comparison.

Despite sounding more similar to each other than any other headphones should sound (not that they were identical-sounding though, just relatively close), I'd say the JH13 and LCD-2 serve separate functional purposes, considering one is an IEM and the other is a full-size headphone. The JH13 can sound really good directly out of a DAP, but it clearly takes high-power amplification to begin to get good sound out of the LCD-2.

vs Sennheiser HD800

LCD-2 w/ 2010 stock & ADZ-5 cable. Amp: B22.

Like the HE-6, the HD800 was somewhat of a treble-tilted headphone. It was better balanced throughout though, with more mid-range & bass quantity. The HD800 had a smaller soundstage than the HE-6, with less depth in particular that made it sound more closed-in. So for anyone who thinks the HD800's soundstage to be large, that should put the HE-6 in perspective, as I thought its soundstage was even bigger with substantially more depth and diffusion (resulting in more "air" throughout).

I thought the HD800 represented another yin-yang to the LCD-2—the HD800's treble tilt versus the LCD-2's mid-range tilt made for a complementary pairing. The HD800's large amount of soundstage depth & width was another contrast to the LCD-2, which was compressed in comparison. The LCD-2's soundstage was much more realistic to me though, despite sounding substantially more closed-in. Its "integrated" imaging was a good contrast from the diffuse imaging of the HD800.

vs Stax SR-507

LCD-2 w/ ADZ-5 cable, amped by B22. SR-507 amped by HeadAmp BHSE.

The SR-507 was more similar to the HE-6 and HD800 than LCD-2, so comparisons were done against those two headphones instead. And between the three, I was the most impressed by the SR-507. Qualities the three headphones had in common included relatively strong treble, high overall clarity throughout the spectrum, and appropriately diffuse imaging—layers were nicely spread out from each other. It could be said that the SR-507 was the most diffuse though, as its imaging had the most lateral span from left to right. The SR-507 had the least soundstage depth though, but I didn't think it was really a negative aspect—if anything, it made it sound less fake and more genuine with respect to the recording. It wasn't quite as good as either the HD800 or HE-6 in certain, minor aspects, but overall it had the most direct, up-close, & driving sound. The HE-6 and HD800 were passive- and detached- (HD800) or distant-sounding (HE-6) in comparison.

The SR-507 also had the fastest impulse response and hence the most precision—fast sequences of notes were the most cleanly separated on it. For bluegrass music it delivered the most pop and twang, qualities that were mostly absent on the HE-6 and HD800. I ended up liking the SR-507's treble the most of the three, primarily because of its precision—the HD800 was simply too slow & imprecise, and the HE-6 didn't accentuate note "attacks" very well—which included details like ringing and high-speed "zings".

None of these three headphones (HE-6, HD800, SR-507) were particularly bassy (and the HE-6 had the least amount of bass) but they did have some bass, just not enough that I'd call any of them satisfactory for music that rides on bass, like electronica/trip-hop. As expected, the LCD-2's higher level of bass was a good contrast against them. The LCD-2 had a substantially more full-bodied mid-range too.

vs Stax SR-007 (OII MKI)

LCD-2 w/ Moon Audio Silver Dragon XLR & ADZ-5 cable, amped by GS-X & B22 respectively. OII MKI amped by HeadAmp BHSE. Balanced XLR input on LCD-2/GS-X vs OII/BHSE comparison.

The LCD-2 had an uphill battle against the OII/BHSE, which remains my reference for all acoustic types of music—in the aspect of tonality & timbre, or whatever you want to call it. It's also my reference for soundstage accuracy, as the OII reacts to different recordings and grows or shrinks the soundstage appropriately.

I'll begin by stating that the LCD-2 in balanced mode on the GS-X made for a very fine-sounding LCD-2. But single-ended on the B22 was definitely better—the LCD-2 developed more bass power, more forward drive, and more fill to the bass/mid-range area for an overall slightly-thicker sound—i.e., even more of that presence factor as previously mentioned.

But as good as the LCD-2 was on the B22, and it was definitely good enough that I'd call the pairing an optimal one, it was still no match for the OII/BHSE. For classical music specifically, the LCD-2 completely lacked several qualities. Scale was missing—the sense of the orchestra sounding big with instruments coming at you from back to front. Dynamic range too—the various instrument sections all sounded at similar volume levels and nothing was truly quiet or truly loud. Volume intensity, accurate soundstage width/depth, true clarity, and proper diffusion weren't there either. The OII provided all of these and in spades at that. Julia Fischer's "Violin Concerto in E major, 2nd movement" from her Bach Concertos CD is probably the best example of the OII doing what it does best, especially in the intensity aspect, on her solo violin. The violin's intensity was completely lost on the LCD-2. It made the solo violin sound merely like a violin playing. Not that that there was anything wrong with this portrayal, but against the OII there was simply no peer—the OII made the violin "sing" with subtle rises & falls in intensity, with the orchestra coming to virtual life at the same time.

No, the LCD-2 could not compete with the OII. There were just too many areas in which the OII crushed it on sonic merit alone. But considering the relative prices between the LCD-2/B22 (approximately $2K) versus the OII/BHSE (~$6.5K), it's an acceptable compromise for those unwilling to pay for the high-end electrostatic system. Were there any aspects in which the LCD-2 was better than the OII? Oh there were a few—the LCD-2 was easily the more physical-, tactile-sounding headphone, with a more direct & assertive sound, and there was that heavy, deep bass too. In fact, one of my complaints against all of the electrostatic headphones that I've heard (which include the SR-X MKIII, SR-404LE, SR-507, and even the OII) is that they lack a sort of "directness" to the sound, but this was not an issue on the LCD-2.

 

SR-507 vs SR-007 (OII MKI)

Amp: HeadAmp BHSE.

A disclaimer here as I didn't formally compare these two headphones against each other to determine relative strengths & weaknesses, but I will say I found them different enough from each other to form a complementary pairing, similar in line with the AD2K & LCD-2 pairing.

In fact, I could take an analogy from the AD2K & LCD-2 pairing. The AD2K was brighter and more forward/up-front, while the LCD-2 was a shade darker with more mid-range & bass and a marginally more passive sound. In a loose sense then, the SR-507 to the OII paralleled the AD2K to the LCD-2. Not that the SR-507 was particularly bright or forward/up-front though, only relatively compared to the OII. But the SR-507's treble tilt & flatter imaging in relation to the OII made it more ideal for certain types of music to me, like bluegrass, trip-hop, rock, and metal, for example. And despite the flatter imaging, I still thought it was perfectly acceptable for ambient electronica, which tends to sound best on headphones with an imposed large soundstage. In fact, I thought the SR-507 ultimately beat out the HD800 which was my previous ambient-electronica headphone, primarily because of its combined clarity, treble, & precision.

Although some might call the SR-507 inferior to the OII, to me it was more of a different flavor that went well with music genres I don't typically use the OII for, as the OII is my preferred classical & jazz headphone. And in my system, I thought it went alongside particularly well with the OII, to comprise a strong electrostatic counterpart to my remaining two full-size dynamic headphones (AD2K & LCD-2).

Summary

Alex and Sankar at Audeze, whom I've met in person on a few occasions now, came up with a really good headphone in the LCD-2. They're good guys too and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend dealing with them.

The LCD-2 did very well in most aspects, all things considered. No single headphone can be all things to even one person IMO, which is why I own multiple headphones, but for me the LCD-2 nicely filled in a void—a (planar) dynamic headphone capable of being driven by the HeadAmp GS-X for classical, jazz, & rock, for times when I don't want to rotate in my electrostatic system. I consider it a bonus that it just happens to also do electronica/trip-hop and metal just as well too. The AD2K, SR-507, and OII MKI fill in for its weaknesses nicely—forward-moving drive & insistence in the case of the AD2K; more treble, diffusion, & clarity in the case of the SR-507; and dynamic range, intensity, & scale in the case of the OII MKI.

Once again I defer to the Notes file (linked at the top) for in-depth details of every headphone comparison that was staged. This review was just a scratch on the surface on the iceberg of notes that were written—so read the notes if you want the full compilation of everything that went down for the listening of this review.

 

4/25/11: relevant info & backstory on the OII/BHSE in my system: http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/548875/review-audeze-lcd-2-hifiman-he-6-stax-sr-507-stax-oii-mki-bhse-et-al/60#post_7427838

 

Related Reading

- LCD-3 multi-way review: http://www.head-fi.org/products/audeze-lcd3-planar-magnetic-headphone/reviews/10298
- Audio-Technica AD2K 5-year re-review: http://www.head-fi.org/products/audio-technica-ath-ad2000/reviews/10293
- Beyerdynamic T1 review: http://www.head-fi.org/products/beyerdynamic-tesla-t1/reviews/10295
- Sennheiser HD800 review: http://www.head-fi.org/products/sennheiser-hd-800-headphones/reviews/10294

Posted

Pros: Full-bodied sound, extended bass, non-fatiguing sonic signature

Cons: Very slightly recessed mids, physically heavy, slightly sloppy craftsmanship, odd design decisions

It's been about a month since I've received my Audez'e LCD-2 headphones (after being on the waiting list for almost three months). It's currently one of the most praised high-end headphones on the market, and before I jump into the review, I'll just get straight to the bottom line--it is a fine pair of headphones, but it's not without issues.

Here's what the LCD-2 looks like:
lcd2-1.jpg

lcd2-6.jpg

lcd2-0.jpg

Cosmetics & Ergonomics
First of all--the build is excellent. It looks every bit the high quality hand-made product that it is, but it has a quirky problem--one of the earcups came out of the frame upon arrival and my heart sank for a moment, but a quick look revealed that it was designed to be able to come off very easily if you simply pull on the anchoring frame a little, and it's very easy to put it back in. While this makes it easy to take the earcups off, it also means it can happen by accident if you simply pull on the headphones a bit hard from the wrong angle. No other headphone I've ever used had this problem, where it literally comes apart easily. It's sort of a blessing at the same time since it's easy to take the earcups off to run audio tests one channel at a time (but obviously, this is something only total audio geeks would do):
lcd2-8.jpg

The actual earpads are very comfortable, but because leather (or pleather) can get sweaty after a while, I always have sanitary covers on all my headphones, including the Sennheiser HD650 with velour earpads (since it protects the earpads from getting worn out). Here's without the sanitary covers:
lcd2-2.jpg

Here's with sanitary covers:
lcd2-7.jpg

My earpads don't match since the right side is 0.6cm thicker, but it doesn't affect the sound--just looks a bit lopsided. They also put in the cable sockets with the wrong orientation on the right side too, making the cable twist a bit on the right side. Minor issues, but slightly annoying since this is a $1,000 pair of high-end headphones and I expected more careful craftsmanship. I wonder why they didn't use metal or plastic parts where the frame's anchoring points inserts into the wooden cups though--they just dug out the wood, which looks a bit too hand-made for comfort to me--I'd prefer they installed metal parts into the wood so that there's no danger of the wood cracking or chipping. I also don't understand why they'd use an open-cell foam on the headband--it just doesn't look very durable since the edges could peel off eventually (like it did on my Sennheiser HD555 after a few years), and it's also terrible for sanitary reasons. Hair has oil and dirt and other stuff that you don't want to get caught in the cell of the foam. They really should have sheathed the foam under a cover for the headband--something like pleather or leather since it's much easier to wipe those clean. The Sennheiser HD650's foam is covered with fabric, and even that inspires more confidence than just bare foam. The cables on the LCD-2 are also awkward since they are stiff have long connectors, and they will poke into your shoulder if you look down. The main cable is also the stiffest headphone cables I have ever seen--they are basically typical thick instrument cables, and all musicians hate instrument cables because we're constantly coiling and uncoiling them all the time and they can be a bit unruly.

In terms of isolation, the LCD-2 is an open-backed design, so you will hear outside sounds--in fact the LCD-2 is one of the most open headphones I have ever heard. Usually open-back headphones still muffle the clarity of outside sounds a little, while the LCD-2 changes the outside sound only very subtly. I personally much prefer open-back designs since not only is the sound a lot more natural and not so claustrophobic like closed-back designs, you can also hear when people talk to you, or when the door bell rings (but they can also hear your music clearly too--it just sounds like a tinny version from a small radio). But of course, if you really need isolation, then only closed-back or IEM's will do.

Here's the whole package and the wooden box:
lcd2-box.jpg

lcd2-package.jpg

lcd2-5.jpg

The overall visual sensibility of the LCD-2 is the steampunk look, which is quite appealing if you dig that style (I do). It's similar to the Hifiman HE-5, the other currently popular orthodynamic headphone, combining wood, naked metal, and painted metal.

The comfort level of the LCD-2 is just fine in general. It's a lot heavier than most headphones (up to 2x or 3x heavier), but it's very comfortable in a snug, substantial way that inspires a sense of security, like how when you hold up something of quality and it weighs a bit but feels very solid and secure. That's how it feels on my head--solid, secure, snug, yet very comfortable. It's no less comfortable than all the other headphones I have, despite being significantly heavier; however, its weight will take its toll after prolonged listening--you'll start to feel it, while with really light headphones like the Denon AH-D7000 or very comfy headphones like the HD555, you pretty much forget you are wearing headphones until you stand up and they are accidentally ripped off your head.

One other small issue with the weight is that because it's so heavy, if you hang the LCD-2 on a typical headphone stand where the entire weight of the headphone rests in the middle of the headband, then the foam on the headband will become compressed in that spot. Some LCD-2 owners just rest it flat on a thick piece of fabric due to that issue, but I don't really have flat surfaces to spare, so I improvised and DIY'd a modification on my headphone stand with some old socks:
lcd2-sockmod.JPG
See how the hanging surface now is almost as wide as the entire headband, and the weight is now evenly distributed? This way, the foam won't compress severely in just one tiny spot like with typical rods that many headphone stands use.

Sound
First of all, take a look at this frequency graph of the LCD-2 (all graphs are taken from measurements done by Tyll Hertsens, formerly owner of HeadRoom--one of the most popular headphone and amp retailers):
lcd2-FR.jpg

That's pretty amazing, isn't it? From 1KHz to 20Hz, it is almost ruler flat. It is extremely rare for any headphone to achieve that kind of linear and neutral frequency response--in fact the LCD-2 is the only one I've ever seen that can do it to that degree. (All LCD-2's are shipped with its own individual graph, showing you how your particular pair tested. Mine looks similar enough to the one above that it's not necessary to post it.)

Now, look at how a 30Hz square wave looks on the LCD-2:
lcd2-30Hz.jpg

Now, look at how a 300Hz square wave looks on the LCD-2:
lcd2-300Hz.jpg

That is also very impressive--the square wave is reproduced so cleanly and with very little distortion.

If you compare the LCD-2's measurements with the out of production, very expensive, and legendary Sony Qualia, you'll be shocked to see just how laughly bad the Qualia's audio quality is compared to the LCD-2:

Sony Qualia frequency response graph:
sony_qualia-FR.jpg

Sony Qualia 30hz square wave:
sony_qualia-30Hz.jpg

Sony Qualia 300hz square wave:
sony_qualia-300Hz.jpg

Pretty horrendous frequency response and distortion for a "legendary" high-end headphone, eh? Not even a fraction as good as the Audez'e LCD-2, and costs more than twice as much when it was in production, and now even more since it's been discontinued and elevated to mythical status.

While all that is great on paper, how does the LCD-2 actually sound? Overall, the LCD-2 has a full-bodied sound, but it is not slow, too heavy or too lush. The bass is extended and sounds neutral without any bloat, while being authoritative and substantial. The mids are smooth and clear, but it's recessed around the 2KHz~3KHz region for about -3dB, which results in the LCD-2 sounding a bit too polite in some cases--especially when it comes to the bite of distorted electric guitars, the snap of the snare drum, or the power of the brass section. I usually EQ that region a little to restore that little bit of brightness. Here's how I EQ the LCD-2:
lcd2-EQ.jpg

The treble of the LCD-2 is just fine. It's articulate and detailed, never too exaggerated or too dark, and very natural sounding.

One very important characteristic I care about the most in audio reproduction gear is that it cannot be fatiguing and offensive, and the LCD-2 has no such problems at all. It isn't excessively bright and fatiguing, nor does it have overwhelming bloated bass, or exaggerated upper-mids that causes annoying sibilance. If anything, I wish the 2KHz~3KHz region didn't have that -3dB of recess, but it's very easy to correct with a simple one-band EQ compensation. If I'm watching a movie or playing a video game where I can't apply surgical DSP processing via software, I actually don't ever notice the slight recess and in fact welcome it since it makes prolonged listening very pleasant. Truth is, if I didn't A/B the LCD-2 against my other headphones or my reference studio monitors (Klein + Hummel o 300D's), I probably would not have noticed that slight recess, although I'd probably note the somewhat polite presentation on aggressive music that has lots of energy in the 2KHz~3KHz region.

Anyway, I could go on listing all the music and test tones I used to put the LCD-2 through its paces, but I listen to some very obscure and eclectic choices of music, so describing them in detail would be meaningless to most of you. If you must know, you can just search head-fi forums for my posts in the official LCD-2 thread. In that thread I even posted the tracks I used to test the LCD-2, and which sections to listen to in order to hear that slightly recessed mids.

Final Thoughts
For about $1,000, the LCD-2 might be too expensive for some people, and the truth is, you can get pretty close to the sound quality of the LCD-2 while spending a lot less. The Sennheiser HD650 for example is an excellent pair of headphones, costing less than half of the LCD-2. The HD650 does just about everything right, except its sub-bass isn't as substantial as a full-range speaker system with subwoofer. It's really only from around 35Hz and lower that the HD650 is rolled off though, while in rest of the frequency response it performs very well and is one of my favorites. It's actually kind of hard for me to say if the LCD-2 is all that much better than the HD650 in terms of value (but in terms of sonic signature, the LCD-2 is definitely a class above, being more refined, balanced, and full-bodied), since both have a singular issue in its frequency response--the LCD-2 in the mids and the HD650 in its sub-bass. The Denon AH-D7000 costs a lot more than the HD650 too but it's certainly not better--at least not to me. Whether you think the LCD-2 is worth the price of admission depends on what you prize the most in a pair of headphone's sonic signature.

As the result of getting the LCD-2, I have sold my Denon AH-D7000. While the D7000 can sound very satisfying when EQ'd to compensate for it's recessed mids, sibilant upper-mids, and exaggerated treble, I just couldn't justify keeping another high-end headphone similar in price to the LCD-2, especially when I would never use it for movies and gaming since I can't apply software DSP processing to it (and buying a high-quality hardware EQ unit just for that purpose seems a bit too much of a waste). Also, needing three bands of EQ to make it sound great is two-bands too many for me. I will definitely miss that visceral and grin-inducing bass though, even if it's a bit exaggerated.

When I decided to purchase the LCD-2, I was hoping it would sound similar to the Stax SR-007 MK2 that I heard months ago when I was in Taiwan--it was one of the most memorable "eargasm" experiences I've ever had, and it was my first experience with an electrostatic system. I was mislead to think the LCD-2 can come close because some members at head-fi had compared the LCD-2 favorably to the flagship Stax rig. I'm tempted to say those guys are smoking something powerful because the LCD-2 to me does not compare to the magical flagship Stax sound, but sonic preferences are very subjective, so maybe to them the LCD-2 really is that magical. Also, I have never A/B'd the two side-by-side, so until I do, I can't say for sure. But at this point my hopes of saving the thousands of dollars I'd need to spend on the flagship Stax rig by getting the LCD-2 was dashed. I bought it without having auditioned it in person--this is just how it is when you live in a crappy city in China--you must rely on other people's reviews and hope to God they have similar taste to yours. While the LCD-2 sounds great, it was probably a bit naive of me to think it could sound like a flagship electrostatic--the two technologies are inherently different after all.

 

Obviously I like the LCD-2 a lot, otherwise I'd have turned around and sold it immediately to recoup my money, since the LCD-2 is very hot right now and the waiting list is about two to three months. I have ordered the Stax SR-007MK2 and the SRM-717 solid state energizer/amp, and they should be coming in about a week or so. I'll decide after I have spent some time with the new Stax rig if I'll be selling off any more of my headphones.

 

EDIT: Now that I have had the Stax rig in my studio for a while now and have A/B'd the LCD-2 against it extensively, I have written a detailed review of the Stax rig. In the review, I go into detail about how the LCD-2 compares with the Stax rig. You can read the review on this page: http://www.head-fi.org/products/stax-sr-007-mk2/reviews#3796

 

If you don't want to read the detailed review of the Stax rig, I'll simply say this--the LCD-2 compares very well, and in some ways they do share a similar sonic signature, but they also have important differences.

 

The similarities:

They both have a full-bodied sound, with authoritative bass, refined mid-range, and articulate treble. They both have slightly recessed mids and upper mids, which contributes to the warmer sonic signature. They both are non-fatiguing and remain pleasant during long listening sessions.

 

The differences:

The LCD-2 is overall denser and creamier, with lower bass extension, while the 007mk2 has punchier bass and more prominent treble, while having a more elegant presentation.

 

Both are excellent, and I would rate them similarly in terms of overall sound quality. In terms of comfort, the Stax is a more comfortable due to the lighter weight.

 

EDIT (August 15, 2011): I have been refining and tweaking the LCD-2's custom EQ curve, and the one I have been using for a while now is this one:

2011-08-15_101239.png

 

When Audez'e released the rev.2 version of LCD-2, the updated frequency response graph really surprised me (in a good way), because it looked almost exactly like the response of my custom EQ curve. That tells me Audez'e agrees with my assessment of the LCD-2 and updated it accordingly.

Posted

Pros: Beautiful Design, Velvet top end, tight full bass. Mids to die for.

Cons: There Are None!

I have been reading these forums for over a year now. I feel like I should give back. They have helped me quite a lot. I thank Ken Ball for steering me here. He has been my guru on this quest for digital/personal/audio heaven. 

I record and make music for a living. I love great sounding records. There is nothing more frustrating than listening to a great sounding record on a wretched sounding rig. You know it sounds good. It sounded good on your CD player in your car? Ugh. The iPod has been a savior and a demon in one swoop.

The search begins. A lot of you came here looking for it. I imagine a lot of you have been Hi-Fi fanatics since you can remember. This is all a set up just tell you my impressions of the LCD-2's...

It took me years to get to my Ultrasone Edition 8's & my HD800's. I won't go into my rant on the 800's but if you read the reviews you will see why people love or wish they could love them. I think they are a lot of work to listen to. The high end wears me out. The Edition 8's are excellent. They are great when I am flying because they offer some isolation.

For reference I have a AOL RX & The SR71-a. 240gb mod. The cabling is all Ken Ball at ALO Audio.

Ken owns a pair of the LCD-2's and sent them to me for a night to put them up against my cans and The T1 as well.

I pulled the LCD-2's out of the box and grinned ear to ear. Ok these are the coolest retro, vintage, steam punk, DIY Mad Max phones I had ever seen. Like something my Dad would have had in '71 sitting next to his new cassette player. I told Ken in an email. Looks do matter. If we are going to walk around with these big clunky things on our heads we want to look as cool as possible. Ok, that's a small part of it but I bring it up because I pulled the T1's out right after it and was really underwhelmed.

I am a portable guy. I travel constantly. I like to have a lot of different music to listen to & I want it to sound as good as humanly possible.

I plugged the LCD-2's in and I was blown away. Out of the box, the first time ever I just listened to the music. I did not have my attention on the top end or were they bass shy? No, just no. They sounded great!

I listened to the Robert Plant & Allison Krauss record. Warm, lush, defined. I was in it. I felt like I was there in the room with the musicians. I listened to records I had produced. Nothing jumped out at me like so many times before. I seem to always have issues with EQ or the stereo field. Not so here. These phones love electric guitars & vocals. This is where so many phones fail. I went on to listen to Classical, Jazz, World, House you name it. It was all ear candy.

I know this is not a technical review. I will leave that to to the guys who can better explain it. This is for the guys that are turning up to find a way to get those files on their little devices to sound better. Do yourself a favor, do your homework. Get the best that you can get. No scratch that go one more than that. You will save in the long run. I have a drawer of road kill. Pre amps, cables & headphones. 


I could say get this amp, get that cable. (Ok, go to ALO & look at Ken's cables) Everyone has different preferences. I bet it will be hard to find people who once have heard these headphones can't all agree that they are some of the best ones out there. For my money the buck stops here.

Funny thing is I don't even own a pair yet but it is not for lack of trying. I am bugging everyone. I want no scratch that I need these headphones.

If you are in the music business I think this is the perfect reference headphone. I think these days a bigger majority of people listen to music on headphones. The people in the business have to start mastering & mixing things with that in mind. Walk down the street. Most the kids you see have a pair of white ear buds sticking out of their head :) Times have changed. For us bigger kids we have gone past the funky ear bud. We are on to bigger and better things and so are Audez'e.

Line up everyone. These guys are on to something.

Monotune

 

I have to amend this review. By some Miracle Alex got me a pair. I had to send Ken's back but here I am right now listening to my own pair. The customer service alone is worth the price. These cans are every bit as good as the ones I had borrowed. Actually better. They are mine all mine.The pair I was sent was a lot lighter than Ken's for whatever reason. So I amend this review they are not heavy in fact quite comfortable. Also I bought ken's modified cable for these and it is genius. Really to my liking. It is a bit more open than the stock cable. Excellent!

Posted

Pros: Incredible bass/mids with a true to life sound

Cons: Heavy and treble at times can be slightly recessed.

So I've had my pair for around a month and they have very quickly shown themselves to be deserving to be amongst some of the very best headphones I've ever heard.

 

Bass:
Absolutely the best bass of any headphone I've ever heard. Deeper, more defined and controlled than anything out there. The amazing thing is just how scary good it is and with ZERO bleeding into the mids.

 

Mids:

Along with the T1s, I consider the LCD-2's mids to be the best I've ever heard as well. Both male and female vocals excel exceptionally well with them. Incredibly organic and upfront with outstanding detail, presence and still very musical.

 

Treble:

Very nice treble, but with some of my recordings, they can seem a bit recessed and set the cymbals too far back in the sound stage. But definitely not a show stopper in any way. With other recordings, the treble is full of life and energy. So it could simply be the great transparency of these headphones showing what is on the recording.

 

Sound stage:

I would rank the sound stage capabilities of the LCD-2s right after my two current favourites (HD800 and T1...in that order). They do portray the sound stage in a very life like way and in proper proportion left to right and front to back. But when compared to the HD800s and T1s they are slightly behind.

 

Comfort:

This area is not a concern to me in anyway, but as I find the HD800s very comfortable and the T1s/D7000s comfortable, I find the LCD-2s adequate...but still heavy. The one kink in their chain.

 

Value:

What can I say, they are 30% and 40% less than the T1s and HD800s respectively, but in quality they are on par (and in many areas even better). Great value IMHO. Their build and construction is simply outstanding and exude $1000+ quality!!!

 

Amazing job by a 2 year old company to come out with a product that competes with the "big boys" in the industry...beyerdynamics, Sennheiser, Grado, Ultrasone, etc... that have all been around much, much longer. Congratulations to Audeze!

Posted

 

Here are my impressions of the LCD-2 r.2   I will refer to the latest LCD-2 Revision2 as r.2 from this point on.

 

The r.2 has a thinner newly developed faster diaphragm and this new development has impacted the LCD in very beneficial ways in every aspect of its performance.  There is now more upper frequency extension than previous, this does not appear to be an increase or boost in treble amplitude but more an increase in the range of the r.2 itself in terms of portrayal and response.  Tonal characteristics of the r.2 are the same but the tonal range has been extended into the upper frequencies.  This upper frequency extension means more noticeability in that area and the key here is not an increase in treble amplitude, not an infringement of treble upon the sonic characteristic of the LCD as many have feared and speculated, but an increase in resolution and clarity from the new driver.  The frequency extension does not translate into a more forward sonic character, it hasn't created glare, edginess, artificial brightness, or a hardness to the delivery. There is more air now to this region and overall detail.  This detail does not create any hardness or bring to the r.2 an analytical nature. Audeze has described the upper range as more pronounced but I believe they have used the wrong term to describe what has happened in this region.  "More pronounced" can be misconstrued perhaps as forward or aggressive and this is not the case at all.  The upper range is simply more defined now with more access to inner detail. A veil has been lifted and there is more focus and speed to the detail, all of this seems natural and not analytical or cold. 

 

Sonic elements in the upper region are approached with more realism than before. Cymbals, chimes, cowbells, tambourines, are now better represented and reproduced. They have a more natural and metallic shimmer with more air.    The shimmer has quicker speed now and a more effortless and natural deliverance, a more realistic metallic timbre which is fast and delicate as it decays. They are simply more convincing and have more micro dynamics and frequency extension.

 

The r.2 is simply quicker overall.  There is more resolution of low level detail, micro dynamics, and more clarity to the detail which is more accessible and easier to discern giving the r.2 a more effortless sense of delivery. 

 

 This refinement in detail, clarity, micro dynamics, and overall resolution provides the r.2 with better focus, imaging and an improved soundstage.  The soundstage is more dimensional with more apparent depth from front to back and is more layered in it's defining presentation. This improvement comes from the cues derived from the speed of the new drivers. That extra resolution to the low level detail and micro dynamic detail gives instruments more of a physical embodiment, a touch more air around them and a touch more dimensional realism.  These cues allow for that ever small amount of detail to be separated in the soundfield and it adds to the overall realism.  A small triangle in the back of the mix when struck now seems to have more space and air around it and the extra bit of low level detail gives the instrument more of a physical embodiment and location in the space of the soundfield. 

 

Overall the soundstage has improved in dimensionality and seems wider. Not wider in terms of more seemingly extended distance in physical separation of instruments than before but that there no longer seems to be a constriction at the edges as there once was. You don't get that sense that there is something restricting  the edge of the soundstage, truncating it and reflecting it back closing it in. Now the soundstage seems to gently fall away at the edges leaving more of an impression that there is a natural unconstrained space for the instruments and music to sit within rather than be walled in by some sort of containment.   Before this restraint at the edges was a distraction but now with the gentle release at the edges of the soundstage the listener is free to enjoy the soundstage in a more natural presentation.  There is also an improved height to the soundstage as well. 

 

Midrange tonality remains the same but the added resolution has improved its definition and dimensionality.  Bass is a bit deeper and seems to have more extension to its depth than obtrusive amplitude. The entire spectrum seems to have benefited from a little more dynamic low level detail and resolution which adds an extra small amount of realism to the surface of a drum being hit with the drumstick, the pluck of a guitar string, or a cymbal being struck.  Instruments are just a bit more palpable where it counts.  

 

I am enjoying the new leather headband. I do not notice its presence at all while listening and I don't think it adds more weight to the LCD.  The latest LCD comes with the drivers secured with a plastic tie wrap so be forewarned to remove it before you try to adjust the height of the cans.  I didn't see them at first and couldn't figure out for a minute why they would not adjust.  

 

Audeze LCD2 Planar Magnetic Headphones
By:
Description:

Audeze LCD2 designed for Recording / Mixing Engineers as reference headphones and for audiophiles and music enthusiasts. - Hand selected Caribbean Rosewood ear cups. - Lamb Skin Leather Ear pads. - Audeze’s unique planar magnetic transducer with matched sensitivity. - Mini XLR interchangeable cable. - Easy to drive with amplifiers. - Left and right transducers have matched sensitivity and frequency response. The LCD2 housing is designed and custom built from hand selected Caribbean Rosewood or Bamboo composite. It is built to enhance the quality of the sound and offers a unique coloration and graining. The LCD2 ear pads are designed to optimally recreate the entire pro audio frequency range. The sloped ear pad design allows us to faithfully reproduce the detail and clarity to the bass, midrange and the treble. The ear pads are made of premium lambskin leather with specially selected foam to offer the right amount of firmness.

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